What is it with Barack Obama, contentious blonde political rivals and airport tarmacs? Obama's testy encounter yesterday with Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer out on the blacktop at the Phoenix airport put me in mind of his famous showdown at Reagan National Airport with Hillary Clinton during the Democratic primaries. Clinton had crosssed the tarmac to apologize to Obama for her New Hampshire campaign chairman's remarks to yours truly, speculating at length about Obama's past drug use and how it might be used against him by the Republicans. The encounter turned heated when Obama asked Hillary if she could also rein in comments lower-level staffers of hers were making about his being Muslim. Hillary hotly objected to this charge, and Obama, as is his wont, rested his hand on her shoulder in a gesture of pacification that she did not take kindly to. In fact, several months later her increasingly desperate campaign was trying in vain to plant a story that he had physically jostled her.

It was, of course, left to John Heilemann and Mark Halperin to give the moment its final treatment in their tell-all campaign book, Game Change:

For the next several minutes, the two went at it in animated fashion. Bug-eyed, red-faced, waving her arms, Hillary pointed at Obama's chest. Obama tried to calm her down by putting his hand on her shoulder - but that only made her angrier. Finally, they broke from the clinch, stalking back to their respective planes. 'Wow, that was surreal,' Obama told Axelrod. He was struck by her fury, and more than that, he thought that she seemed shaken. 'You could see something in her eyes,' he said, something he hadn't seen before. Maybe it was fear. Maybe desperation. 'You know what?' Obama said. 'We're doing something right.'

And now Jan Brewer. Over at TPM, Josh Marshall posts a reader e-mail speculating that the encounter was a deliberate Republican ploy to step on Obama's post-State of the Union message. But Jon Chait makes the persuasive argument that Obama is probably as pleased with the ramifications of this encounter as he was with his kerfuffle with Clinton:

Since Obama can’t get anything passed through Congress, one option is to simply clarify that he opposes the GOP’s most draconian elements. So: A public shouting match with a governor who’s unpopular with Arizonans in general and despised by Latinos. (Her job approval with Arizona Latinos is minus 40.)
An accident? I doubt it.

Who's going to be next? Let's be glad Obama's on such seemingly good personal terms with Angela Merkel. Otherwise, there might be an international incident looming somewhere on the vast runways of the Frankfurt Am Main Flughafen...